UW Information Technology

UW-IT Insights — September 2019

Table of Contents

Big price drop for software in FY2020
New tool to promote student success
Machine learning helps UW meet “always-on” wireless connectivity
Groundbreaking cloud computing work sheds light on glacial response to climate change
The UW’s supercomputer now offers easier access for UW researchers, AI capabilities
Service Catalog overhauled to offer improved customer experience
Groundbreaking data collective seeks to bring latest computing tools to UW research
Where we roam with eduroam
In brief

Big price drop for software in FY2020

Students, faculty and staff will see significant price decreases for popular software managed by UW-IT in fiscal year 2020 at all three campuses — with three products now available for free to students.

Prices on such popular software as Adobe Acrobat Pro, Adobe Creative Cloud and Visual Studio Pro are now significantly lower, with MatLab, SPSS and SAS free for students.

The savings in Software for the UW (UWare) come after a multi-year effort by UW-IT to reduce and stabilize cost and resale of subscription-based software licenses for the University.

“By simplifying our business processes, we were able to reduce the cost for 70 percent of the products in our catalog,” said Damien Koemans, director for UW-IT’s Customer Service & Support.

UW-IT aims to provide an efficient and cost-effective service for students, faculty and staff to acquire and use a variety of software products that meet compliance standards for licensing and government regulations.

The software in UWare is a cost-recovery (self-sustaining) service. The full cost of the license, delivery and support must be recovered through the sale of the products in the catalog. For more information and the UWare storefront, visit IT Connect.

New tool to promote student success

two students talking and looking at their computers, in front of UW Library

A new online tool being tested by UW advisers will help students make more informed decisions when choosing their courses — providing insights into the quickest path to their desired degree and at what point in their academic career they should take certain courses.

If the pilot is successful, Beaten Paths will join two other Student Pathway tools — Pivot and Prereq Map — to help students chart a course to graduation.

When the Beaten Paths tool is released to students, they will be able to see when courses are typically offered, and view the most commonly taken courses at important milestones in their academic careers, such as declaration of the major.

The tool, created with the support of the UW Student Success and Retention Task Force and in partnership with the Office of the University Registrar, will also facilitate curriculum planning by helping the University manage course bottlenecks, plan appropriate course sequences and improve time to graduation.

During the pilot, advisers will provide feedback about the tool’s ease of use and the comprehensiveness of data, and help UW-IT iterate on future designs, including how the tool will be accessed — as a standalone application, or as a feature or a data source within an existing application.

Machine learning helps UW meet “always-on” wireless connectivity

When a biology lecturer noticed Poll Everywhere, a classroom response app, was failing to accept some of his students’ answers, he knew he had a serious problem.

To find out what was happening, he sought help from UW-IT and Academic Technologies. They leveraged machine learning, analytics and data-driven insights to pinpoint an issue with the wireless connectivity and fix the problem.

For David Morton, director of UW-IT’s Network & Telecommunications Design, this particular glitch represented something larger: “Our students have much higher expectations of technology: it just needs to work all the time.”

After all, their grades can depend on “always-on network connectivity,” he explained.

However, it is not just students who need secure and dependable wireless networks. Faculty and staff are increasingly relying on complex applications and smart devices.

“Maintaining reliable communications is critical to everything we’re doing,” Morton said. “So, we’re leveraging machine learning to improve our systems, and in turn improving the classroom experience for students and faculty.”

Morton’s team uses Aruba NetInsight, a cloud-based system that employs artificial intelligence, to help track the health of the UW wireless network. The system analyzes the entire network, identifies performance problems in real time, and offers recommendations on how to fix them. As it tracks performance at the UW — and at  11 other major universities that also use the application— it learns as it amasses useful data that helps all institutions with critical decisions, such as where to expand Wi-Fi.

The glitch in the biology lecturer’s classroom was indeed complex — when a wireless connection went down, it automatically switched some students to another connection, leaving their wireless devices in limbo as the switch took place, and their answers unrecorded.

“It would have taken us countless hours of engineering sleuthing to track down the problem and create a solution to prevent it from happening again,” Morton said. “But with machine learning, we zeroed in on the issues much faster.”

Groundbreaking cloud computing work sheds light on glacial response to climate change

Outdoor shots of Pacific Northwest in Washington, Mt. Rainier

As glaciers retreat in the Northwest and across the world, potentially putting at risk the lives of millions of people, one UW researcher’s groundbreaking research is deepening our understanding of how climate change is reshaping the Earth’s cryosphere — areas covered in ice that include polar ice sheets, glaciers and seasonal snow.

The retreat of glaciers across the world is already having profound consequences, said David Shean, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and a leader in his field. Read how Shean hopes his work will help nations around the world make better preparations for the expected changes in the cryosphere.

To work more effectively, Shean partnered with UW-IT’s Research Computing unit to bring modern computing solutions to his research and to the classroom, where Shean is training the latest generation of scientists and engineers to leverage the power of cloud computing.

The story is part of UW-IT’s 2019 A Year in Partnerships series, which highlights how colleagues throughout the University are collaborating to advance teaching, learning, innovation and discovery and help the UW operate more efficiently. A new story will run every few weeks through early December, with the next one scheduled for early October.

The UW’s supercomputer now offers easier access for UW researchers, AI capabilities

Hyak, the UW’s shared supercomputer cluster, is now better than ever — and more widely available to the UW research community — thanks to ongoing operational and hardware improvements.

One of the most significant enhancements is the introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to Hyak, thanks to a partnership between UW-IT and the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering.

“We’ve engineered a more cost-efficient architecture for AI and machine learning in Hyak, which translates to about $500,000 in savings over a commercial solution,” said Nam Pho, director of Research Computing in UW-IT.

In addition, an operational change means that now anyone with a UW NetID who needs powerful computing tools to do their research can gain access to Hyak. Until recently, users needed to be members of a Hyak-sponsor group. But Pho said his team has found a way to make Hyak more generally available to single users without disrupting another group’s work.

And because Pho expects more people to use Hyak, his team is working on a new on-demand portal that will be easily reached through any web browser — via laptop, iPad or cellphones.

It will include the traditional command line for power users and a graphical user interface (GUI) in Jupyter Notebooks, RStudio and Visual Studio Code.

“We want to do everything we can to provide modern, easy-to-use tools so researchers can continue to advance their work, from their labs or anywhere their work takes them,” Pho said.

Service Catalog overhauled to offer improved customer experience

UW-IT’s Service Catalog has undergone a major overhaul — offering an improved customer experience, with customer-focused content and simple, uniform ordering.

“The new catalog offers our customers more of an ‘outside-in’ view of UW-IT to support their needs,” said Karalee Woody, assistant vice president of UW-IT’s Customer Service & Support. “These efforts represent significant changes that UW-IT is making to improve our customers’ experience.”

The new catalog offers short, jargon-free descriptions of UW-IT offerings and designations on service listings, indicating whether the service is available for students, instructors, staff or departments and helping users to easily self-select items intended for them.

IT Connect will continue to provide information about technology tools, resources and instructions for services. The two sites complement one another to give customers the information they need.

New UW Data Collaborative seeks to bring latest computing tools to UW research

Imagine a researcher at work in a small, windowless “cold room” with an automatic locking door and a desktop computer without internet access in order to protect highly restricted health and population datasets.

Cold rooms offer a strict environment that keeps data safe. But in a highly collaborative institution such as the UW, where cutting-edge research performed by multidisciplinary teams is now the norm, confining data to a single cold room and to a single investigator, limits its utility.

Read how the new UW Data Collaborative is bypassing the cold rooms to make highly restricted and sensitive data widely available to researchers — without compromising security and confidentiality.

Where we roam with eduroam

What are the top countries where UW travelers connected to Wi-Fi using eduroam, the UW’s preferred Wi-Fi connection service for all students, faculty and staff? Find out below. You can use eduroam in 101 countries around the world. Get eduroam now by configuring your devices at IT Connect, and bon voyage!


In brief:

Academic and fiscal calendars at the UW now in one tool

Multiple overlapping calendars in use at the UW can be confusing. Now, academic staff, fiscal analysts, report writers and anyone with a web browser can use the new UW Calendar Date Lookup tool. It helps people understand, for today or any day, where we are on five business calendars. View them all together at the UW Academic & Fiscal Calendars webpage of the Office of Planning and Budgeting. It is also available in the UW Calendars area of the Business Intelligence Portal.

Register for the Enterprise Architecture (EA) Showcase on October 22

Join the EA team and colleagues from across the UW for a half-day session to explore the transformative changes underway in higher education, the context it creates for your work, the importance of building collaborations, and how EA can help. Learn more and register.

Get your widely-viewed video captioned for free

Accessible Technology Services (ATS) is offering free captioning for UW videos that are widely available and used multiple times. If you are interested in applying for this service, please complete the UW Captioning Service Application.

Knowledge Navigator now features Workday report information and metadata

Users can now search a complete catalog of Workday reports in Knowledge Navigator (KN), the UW’s guide to data and information. They also can get report overviews and discover which Workday roles have access to run a report. KN is a web application that allows UW data users to search, find and understand the data and reports they use to do their work.

Students’ input was critical to MyUW redesign

In the latest redesign of MyUW, listening to students and using a user-centered design approach proved critical to the tool’s success, according to the published article.

Is your personal computer vulnerable?

Protect your personal computer or device with Sophos Home Premium anti-virus software, available at no cost to students, faculty and staff.